Things for free
As a garden designer, I often feel like my customers’ personal shopper. In essence, I’m trying to be as good as possible at spending other people’s money by advising on type of stones, outdoor furniture, sheds, plants...etc. In this blog space, I want to create a purchase free zone, never promoting any garden paraphernalia or materials, so at least here you know you’re safe.
With Christmas fast approaching, and the consumerist overdrive soon to be in full throttle, I thought this post should buck the trend and provide suggestions of things you can do now and for nowt (or cheaply) to make possible presents for gardeners. I cannot guarantee your friends will thank you for them, but hopefully you will have fun making them.
1. Collect seeds. I’m forever collecting seeds and receiving them from friends. Not all of them succeed, but I’m always touched by people’s enthusiasm for particular plants. A friend of mine once gave me Shoo-fly plant seeds from a plant she had particularly enjoyed in her garden, beautifully presented in a card she had made. Definitely worth any gift voucher. Pot marigolds are one of my favourites to pass on, easy to propagate and so cheerful when they come up.
My attempts at creating labels for pot marigold seeds.
2. Pot up divided plants. Herbaceous perennials are easy to divide and some will quickly grow into full blown specimens. Here too, you can refine the labelling or potting. Many plants in my garden are named after their donors, as in Liz’s poppies, Mags’ Francoa, Mum’s sorrel...etc.
3. Make some comfrey or nettle tea as a plant feed. Here’s a link to a guide on how to make comfrey tea https://www.allotment-garden.org/comfrey/comfrey-compost-feed-tea/. You can be more slapdash about it. My mother makes great nettle tea just by leaving fresh nettle leaves to rot in water in old tubs or jerrycans for a couple of weeks. The stuff absolutely stinks, so make sure to bottle it securely if you’re going to give it away.
4. Make your own bird feeder. This is an idea stolen from the same friend who did the Shoo-fly seed collecting. This is a way to reclaim chipped mugs or cups, and as we seem to be a household where crockery has a very limited lifespan, there’s no shortage of cups to choose from. I melted lard and then as it started to cool down, mixed seeds in it. The whole lot was then refrigerated for it to set. The tea spoon perch was just superglued to the edge of the mug.
5. You can also channel your inner artist and explore all kinds of arts and crafts with a nature or gardening theme, such as Hapa Zome - a Japanese natural dyeing technique using leaves and flowers. There’s loads of information online about it. Check out this blog post from the Manchester Breathing Spaces project: https://www.mappingmanchestersquietspaces.org/single-post/2019/09/30/hapa-zome-with-emily-hayes
6. Or why not create a natural plant support or ornament in a friend’s garden. You can be as creative as you like using branches, leaves or soil to create structure. The example below is from Salford’s own RHS Bridgewater garden, where pruned stems of Rhododendrons have been used to create plant support.
I’m not expecting this blog post to stop rampant consumerism. And I often feel keenly the paradox of aspiring to a minimalist lifestyle which seems to require that I buy more stuff. In one of his stories, Alan Bennett summarises beautifully the challenge ahead: “Lots of people could give up things, what they couldn’t do without was shopping for them”.
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All photos and artwork are my own.